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Editor of Fraser’s Magazine, William Maginn finds his interest piqued when, in a London pub in the 1950s, he hears tell of an Irish mountain village that was abandoned in 1940 after a shameful legal trial. Off he goes to get the story for himself, and the result is another captivating read from O’Doherty (The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P, 1992). In the town below where the village disappeared, Maginn meets only with sealed lips until, with a reporter’s sleuthing that goes a bit past the strictly ethical, he gets his hands on what he wants: the thick folded packet of papers containing the long police deposition made by Father Hugh McGreevy, who’d been the village’s priest for 33 years, knew everything that had happened, and had now himself been banned from serving mass. What had happened? Fr. McGreevy’s deposition constitutes by far the largest part of O’Doherty’s story, carrying the reader through the terrible winter of ’49, when all five of the village’s wives and mothers died then through the next winter, against all odds equally severe and bringing trial upon trial to the remaining villagers—in good part via the uncontrollable madness (and sexual dallyings with the livestock) of young Tadhg O’Sullivan, who’d been an idiot ever since being struck in childhood by a flung stone. Father McGreevy’s despairing efforts to salvage the honorable and hale folk values and traditions of the village can’t hold it together or keep its reputation for insanity and perversion from spreading undeservedly. Nor is he helped by the craziness that emerges in Old Biddy, his housekeeper, or by a horrible death, and a conflagration, and what to biased and ignorant outsiders will seem an exorcism. Anchored in the very textures of a hard daily life lived by real people in real places, O’Doherty’s novel of a village has more in it of a true Ireland—and world—than many a dozen others.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-885983-39-5
Page count: 417pp
Publisher: Turtle Point
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999